After years of struggle, ACU members achieved a big victory recently when Puerto Rico agreed to restore to them more than $35 million in unpaid overtime wages. (Photo courtesy Servidores Públicos Unidos)
In an historic victory for correctional officers of Puerto Rico, the government of the commonwealth has agreed to restore more than $35 million in unpaid overtime wages to nearly 4,500 workers.
The settlement affecting members of Alianza Correccional Unida (ACU), Servidores Públicos Unidos (SPU), AFSCME Council 95, is one of the largest in U.S. Labor Department history. It covers overtime compensation due from 2002 to Oct. 31, 2011, including interest.
The more than $35 million payment will be made over a period of four years. ACU, SPUPR, and AFSCME International teamed for the victory.
“We are very happy with this agreement,” said Juan González, president of ACU, SPU/AFSCME Local 3500. “We have been fighting tooth and nail to make the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation pay up the overtime hours. We couldn’t have done it without AFSCME International, which helped us bring this issue to the U.S. Labor Department. We didn’t let up and kept applying pressure, and today we can say we have achieved our goal.”
Annette González, president of SPUPR, congratulated ACU members on their victory, stressing the importance of the collaborative effort that led to it. “We congratulate our correctional officers for this great victory, for their perseverance and aggressiveness, which have achieved great results,” she said. “We’re very grateful to AFSCME, and we’d like to highlight the work of the Department of Labor in helping to achieve these results. We hope this injustice will never be repeated.”
In addition to the monetary settlement, the Department of Correction and Rehabilitation (DCR) has made a commitment to take the necessary steps to ensure future compliance with the law and to hire additional staff to reduce the need for overtime hours.
AFSCME joins the celebration of this outstanding victory. The issue of overtime pay in corrections dates back more than a decade, when the old norm was for officers to work beyond their shifts without receiving any additional wages. Instead, they were offered compensatory time off, but many never had a chance to take it.
This was wrong, and yet an initial complaint filed in 2002 was dismissed by the DCR. The struggle continued in 2008, when ACU signed its first collective bargaining agreement with DCR, but was interrupted in 2009, when the administration of Gov. Luis Fortuño took away collective bargaining rights. A key turning point came in 2011, when ACU leaders and a top AFSCME advisor met with Labor Department officials. In 2012, an added victory came when DCR agreed to pay overtime wages periodically.
AFSCME congratulates our correctional officers in Puerto Rico on their success. We will continue to stand with you in solidarity.
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees